The sun hadn’t reached its peak yet but forcefully reminded the young woman behind the wheel why she should have invested in getting the air condition fixed. She couldn’t have predicted a heat wave like the one they struggled with at present – with summer still patiently waiting in the future. Even if she tried to, Jeannie Leeland failed to remember a hotter spring in Kentucky. For hours she had been stuck in this little oven and felt the tiredness gushing over her in ever growing waves. She had rolled down the window in hope that the wind would give her some sort of relief. The heat seemed to prepare her in almost biblical ways for the upcoming hell that undoubtedly would greet her at home.
When she had called her father just two days ago to let him know about her intentions to come for a short visit, Thomas Leeland had not much to say other than a short mumbled acknowledgement. Jeannie knew that her father had never been talkative on the phone. If he wouldn’t have wanted her there, he would have voiced this straight away. So, things could have been easy, but they never were when it came down to her brother Joshua. He unfortunately had overheard the conversation between her and her father.
They were gathered together for the weekly family dinner at the ranch when Jeannie had called and Joshua instantaneously voiced his disapproval. His youngest sister, as far as he was concerned, had lost all rights to decide when she wanted to appear, predominantly after her no show last Christmas. This disrespectful behavior towards her family had only caused more heartache, mainly for it had been the first Christmas without their late mother.
Tired of yet another argument Thomas had sat down at the table after hanging up the phone and had tried to ignore his oldest sons’ outburst. Why he couldn’t have been just happy that his sister wanted to come home was beyond him. Thomas knew how hard the past year had been for Jeannie and he held no grudge against her for not being at home over the festive period. If she would have been there or not, Joshua would have most certainly found something to argue her about. Besides, her life had been in New York City for almost a decade now and was no longer with them in Springwood Falls. Secretly he wished it were his sons’ family that had moved away, or at least leaving him at peace for one week. The family dinners seemed to have turned in to a barrage of lectures by Joshua about the way the Ranch was getting too much work for him or his favorite subject, Jeannie.
Angered about Thomas’ silence, Joshua went outside with his cell phone.
Although Jeannie had expected a call from her brother her heart still sank when she recognized his number on the display and for a moment considered to ignore it. Knowing she would only worsen the situation for herself and her father she hesitantly picked up. Before she could even say a word, his voice barked down the line and made her feel sick.
“What the hell are you up to Jen?”
She sighed and replied calmly, “Hi Josh – nice to hear from you – and so quickly as well”
“Don’t be smart with me Jen! Never suited you”, his voice rose as he spoke.
Not interested in arguing, Jeannie took a deep breath, “Did dad have nothing better to do then to call you straight away?”
“Ha!” Joshua couldn’t help but gloat, “He didn’t sis, we had our weekly dinner! Something you would know about, by the way, if you would have shown some kind of interest in your family and show face more than once a year! So, what’s the deal, why now Jen?”
Jeannie took another deep breath, trying not to fall into his trap. That’s what he wanted; her losing it and shouting back so he could glow as the Samaritan who had tried to reason with his unthankful sister. But not this time, she was too exhausted for yet another word fight.
“Josh, listen, it is getting late and I am leaving first thing in the morning. I have quite a drive ahead of me and the last thing I need is explaining why I am visiting my father. After all, this is my home just as much as it is yours. I see you in two days. Good night.”
Without further ado she hung up the phone and left her brother rather bewildered staring at his cell phone. She knew she had just poured more fuel to the flame.
While steering her car down the colorful Dogwood Tree paved roads, the outline of the mountains of her youth faintly appeared on the horizon. Thoughts filled with doubt swirled around her mind as she closed in.
Yes, her visit had not been purely born out of sentimental grounds. So much had happened in the past few months and had driven her to this point. She needed to go. The one place she had felt safe and where she knew could clear her mind and sort this mess she had brought upon herself. Even with her mother not being there to talk to, Jeannie lived with the hope that maybe somehow her memories would be enough.
Not before long the road bent downhill a long right corner before it gave view to the shiny rooftops and the church steeple which were glistening in the afternoon sun, nestled snuggly within the valley. Springwood Falls was within her reach. Soon the turn for the Ranch would lead her East of Town, a route she could have taken blindfolded.
Jeannie leaned against her car that was parked in the front yard and devoutly observed the old homestead. The two story ranch stood strong against the crisp blue sky. The faint yellow paintwork of the building was framed by the bright white balustrade and roof over the front porch with its eaves prominently overhanging the garden to its sides, shielding her mothers’ rose bushes from the mid-day sun.
How often she had climbed the worn out steps Jeannie could not count.
The gravel path winded its way neatly towards them, with the colorful flower garden to the left and the beginning of meadow to the right. The bluegrass spread its vast blanket for almost an acre along the plateau which proudly looked over the valley below.
From the front yard transcended a wide isle towards the backyard which unveiled the Leeland emporium in all its glory. The old stables were neatly kept and welcomed visitors. Behind them was the training ring with the indoor arena next to it. The freshly painted white fences bordered the fields from the dirt tracks that lead East and North to further fields and the woodlands beyond. The red barn was nestled at the nearest edge to the front yard against the land and the starting wood path, a short cut to the Village.
The backyard was parted in to the commercial and family area by two prominent old trees.
The huge oak and willow tree peaked over the roof top and swayed gently in the sweet spring breeze that carried its distinct smell across the land.
Jeannie’s room was upstairs to the left facing the front porch. Her gaze wandered up along the building and noticed the slow dancing net curtains that were gently swaying through her open sash window in the breeze.
The fixed windows in the bottom were shining in the sun and bathed the home in such dramatic warmth that Jeannie could basically feel the love this home had kept in every corner.
Undauntedly Jeannie strode up the front porch and entered the cool entrance hall that greeted her in deserted silence. The familiar smell of warm polished wood and coffee mixed and prominently lingered in the air which tacitly shrouded her in assurance.
She dropped her bag at the bottom of the stairs and wandered through the quiet rooms. Everything was exactly as she had memorized it. The old chair her father used to sit in at night reading his papers while her mother would have watched her favorite show on TV. It had never left its place in all those years. The dresser in the dining room was neatly stacked full with cups and saucers and decorated with tiny figures her mother had collected over the years. Each one stood proudly on its dedicated spot. As she walked past them, she had to smile fondly, remembering the peril her father always had to undergo hiding these hideous creatures. Just to find them the next morning at exactly their foreseen spots. Yet, they were still there.
As Jeannie continued her search thorough the living room, she noticed the pictures on the fire place. A sudden struck hit her with such force that she had to halt for a moment. The one in the middle stood out the most. She remembered the day it had been taken, so vividly. It was the last ‘Market and Horse Fair’ they had visited together before Jeannie moved to New York almost 9 years ago. Her father had been rather sentimental about her leaving and took hundreds of photographs on that day. This was the only photograph with the three of them together. Her mother exposed her pearl white teeth with her beautiful, infectious smile. Jeannie was in the middle and her dad to the right. She actually had never approved of the photo, as she thought herself hideous and had caused quarrels with her parents each time she had visited, why they were still displaying it so proudly.
Looking at it now she felt terribly ashamed of herself. All that was in front of her was a moment in time she would have given her all for to revisit it just once more. Why ever she hadn’t been able to pluck up the courage to spend Christmas with them last December stayed beyond her imagination as guilt mixed together with her grieve into a sardonic cocktail. With care Jeannie placed the frame a little closer to the front before she headed towards the kitchen.
After she poured a decent cup of coffee her gaze wandered out the window and scanned the grounds for some sign of life. The coffee machine was still gurgling away as the comforting backyard presented its colorful beauty. She could see all the way up the grazing fields at Creekbrook Hill and parts of the stables to her right where she stood. She loved nothing more than the colors of spring, the blooming Dogwood Trees in her childhood playground framed by the white fences she had climbed as a child. How could she have almost deleted these pictures out of her memory? Had work really gotten the better of her?
Just as she thought about sitting down to take a rest from the long journey, a familiar creature lumbered around the corner with its ears frantically flapping up and down with each step it took. The slightly overweight Basset Hound, Fred was panting heavily as he tried to out run the two men that followed his pursuit. Joseph Condulle a proud Native American at first oldest family friend and first hand in command on the ranch was walking side by side with Thomas in good spirits as they were dusting off their outfits and hats. Joseph’s long yet black braided hair almost reached his hips and made it hard to believe that both men were almost in their 70’s. As they approached the back door a sudden rush of fear clashed like a wave over Jeannie and for a moment, she considered to quietly steel herself out of the house before they had noticed her arrival. Two days had passed by and she knew only too well how desperately her brother not wanted her to be here. Surely he had tried his hardest to convince their father to send her back on her way. But before she was able to come to a conclusion the backdoor to the kitchen had already swung open and, alarmed by her scent, an overexcited Fred stormed right across to her He greeting her as if he’d forgotten that he wasn’t a puppy anymore. Hauling at her feet the poor old chap fell over and landed on his back as Jeannie leaned down to welcome him.
“Look who’s back!” shouted Joseph with raised arms. A booming smile exposed his big white teeth against his tanned dark skin.
Relieved about his reaction Jeannie gladly engaged in the hug Joseph offered even though it was accompanied by a dusty cloud as she tapped his shoulders.
“We’ve missed you, young lady!” sight Joseph with glee.
“I’ve missed you, too” she replied as she was nestled against his shoulder.
As Jeannie looked up her eyes met with her father’s. Thomas was still leaning against the open door, a loving smile upon his face which was touched by the late sunlight. His blue eyes were poring over with love and anticipation. Never before had her father seemed so prominent yet vulnerable to her and all of a sudden, she felt overcome with emotions.
Without uttering a word the two embraced each other, inhaling the moment quietly and long enough to make each other understand, as sometimes words were not enough. Inexorably the stress and anxiety Jeannie had suffered from surfaced at her fathers’ shoulders, despite her efforts not to let it show. She had not planned to greet her father like that.
“It’s okay pumpkin”, Thomas whispered. His dark voice vibrated as he tried to calm his daughter
“It’s okay, you are home now. Come, wipe those tears from these beautiful brown eyes and give me a smile.” Gently he wiped a tear from her face as he had done when she was a little girl. Quickly she drew in a deep breath, feeling a little stupid forever doubting her father in the first place.
There he was, standing tall and strong as ever. The one person she had always been able to rely on. His white hair stood wild in all directions after he had taken off his hat. His pale blue eyes, framed by an armada of wrinkles and sun spots tried to blink some tears away.
“Now that’s much better”, Thomas concluded as Jeannie smiled back at him as requested.
“It’s so good to be home dad” Jeannie answered finally and drove her attention back to Joseph and Fred to grant her father a few minutes to calm himself. She knew how important it always had been for him not to cry in front of his children.
Thomas quickly turned to grab two mugs and poured coffee for him and Joseph. All the while Joseph couldn’t stop talking about the ranch and his granddaughter who was born just a few weeks previous. He couldn’t wait to get away and see her but it had to wait for now. His son lived with his young family all the way in Colorado.
Thomas had to chuckle a little as his thoughts swiftly drifted away. He had to admit he have had his doubts that Jeannie would actually come. Over the past two days he had thought up all kinds of excuses she could have come up with. On top was he slightly uncomfortable with the way he felt about Jeannie’s absence on Christmas. Yes, he understood her hurt, but never before had she missed the most important holiday. He didn’t want to think about it right now; he felt it betrayed the happiness and relief he was feeling. Because he had almost expected her to change her mind and turn around half way.
But, there she was standing in the kitchen as she used to, leaning against the island with a coffee in her hand and that so infectious laugh, her mother’s laugh.
Forgotten was the heartache he had to endure on Christmas Day that gushed over him in waves with every passing car on Main Street. Spying from the living room window, he had hoped for one of them to turn up the ranch drive. But it never happened no matter how much he prayed.
Not being able to change the past, Thomas was determined after he saw that look in her eyes, to dig deeper. Whatever reason had led her home, he knew, he sensed there was more to the story. And it was up to him to help her.
As he watched Jeannie intently he was struck how much she resembled her mother. The much Jeannie hated it when she was a teenager, but there was no denying it. From the dark hair over her eyes, the way she smiled even how she placed one hand on her hip when she was standing and waiting for someone. Her temper had proven to be the only difference between them.
Content, Thomas sipped his coffee and tried to think of a way to break the news of her siblings accompanying them the next day for dinner. Seeing Jeannie so happy at that moment though made him decide to wait until the next morning. This was his moment and just this once he wanted to act a little selfishly and enjoy his daughter, sitting there on the kitchen floor with Fred, laughing and talking to them all as if someone had turned back time.
Thomas took another sip of his coffee and smirked at his newly found selfishness, which felt better than he would
have liked to admit.